Santosha, the second of the niyamas, reminds us to be content with all that we have, and all of who we are.
There is alot of money being made convincing us that our happiness lies just within this bottle, just after we buy this new phone, just over there in that bigger house. The beauty industry makes sure that we only feel beautiful when we apply their products or get that treatment or loose those 7lbs in 7days. Even all of the self help books and spiritual masterclasses promise happiness - upon completion of their miracle course.
There are endless promises that are being made that make us feel that happiness is somewhere or in something and it will come just when you...... The trouble is, we start to feel like happiness is always just out of our reach and we embark on the endless search for it. All of these promises just feed the negative thoughts and feelings about what we have, where and who we are in the moment. Satosha asks us to skip out the middle man, and to be happy.. right now. It is the practice of cultivating happiness from within, not from external satisfactions. It’s being content with what is in this moment. It’s knowing that we are whole and complete and nothing is missing.
When we are always searching for our happiness in external sources or when we reach our ideal level of perfection, we may find it difficult to ever feel contentment or satisfaction. Ever notice how when we finally get what it is we want that happiness we get doesn't last for long. Most people think that winning the lottery and becoming a millionaire would be the ultimate solution to happiness, but studies actually reveal the opposite. Within a year, the ecstasy fades, and the winners return to their baseline level of happiness, which for most isn't enough or the contrast makes it feel worse than it is and in turn they search for ways to feel that 'high' again. It's the same rule that applies to any addiction. We turn to something that at first makes us feel incredibly good, then to only realise eventually it looses that magic and life feels rather dull or worse than before, so we 'search' for that peak again and again, often with more and more. Look at people who become addicted to plastic surgery. How something so innocent as a bit of botox, leads to lip fillers, leads to more botox to a nose job to a chin job to a... and soon the person is unrecognizable!
Contentment is something that can only be cultivated from the inside, that is why it can be experienced regardless of external circumstances or substances. It is a feeling that is so strong that it doesn't matter if the sun is shining or the sky chucks it buckets. We look out the window with the same feeling, that everything is just as it should be. We are are content driving around our 20 year old car, just as much as we would enjoy a brand new one. Our happiness level is the same. Sure, it might peak here and there and dip now and again, but generally speaking, people who are content have a stable, positive outlook regardless of the circumstance and condition.
Easy to say right? Be happy and content even when you are sucking on life's bitter lemons? But what if I say, there are people, normal people who do this everyday and that somehow, they have mastered this incredible skill, and they are not enlightened at all. They are simply optimistic. They are the one's that can see that lemon's can give you lemonade.
The Buddha says that to live is to suffer, but how much we suffer is in our hands. I think we will all experience a time of hardship in our lives, whether it be financial, with relationships, our health and so on and the difference will be, what we focus on in those moments. If we focus on only the negative, we will feel negative. Our vision narrows and we find it hard to find our way out of the situation we are in. We only sink deeper and deeper into our self loathing and that can be a slippery slope towards depression, and when we are depressed it becomes even harder to get our selves back up. Our way of thinking starts to work against us rather than for us. It consumes us and it is all we see. This reminds me of an absolutely beautiful girl I know who truly believes she is ugly because she only ever see's her imperfections and that is what she focuses on. I personally don't know how much more perfect she can be in my eyes, yet what she see's in the mirror is completely different because what she focuses on is different. She is always chasing her perfection in the next bottle of cream or makeup and I wonder if she will ever find her contentment in there.
If we were able to focus on the good that still exists in that moment, to count our blessings, to seek beauty rather than to seek what is bad and ugly, we would then cultivate a more positive mindset. We would then be able to see all the possibilities that were still available to us, we become flexible, we bend and don't break. It's like the girl who looks out the window and see's that it is raining yet is still content while others look out the window and immediately start to state that the whole day is ruined. The girl who is content is so because perhaps instead of thinking about all the things she can't do because of the rain, her mind instantly goes to all the things she can - getting cosy on the sofa and reading that book she's been wanting to read, watching that film, making that craft ect. Her mind is helping her move forward, not holding her back and bringing her down.
So this contentment thing is an inside job. First, we have to build our muscle of optimism. It may not happen instantaneously, but just like we can't expect to see big biceps with just only going to the gym once, it takes time, practice and training. We must choose to see differently and be mindful to 'see the brightside' over and over again. We must be mindful to spend less time engaging in, and often fueling our negative thoughts and replace them with more constructive thoughts. Over time, we can literally retrain your brain to become more optimistic so that it becomes our nature.
So how do I become more content and optimistic in my life?
Practice gratitude. Counting our blessings everyday helps us to appreciate all that we do have and shifts our focus away from all that we don't. Gratitude is a positive, elevated emotion that will uplift us on a deep level making it easier to see life in a different, more open way.
Meditate to recalibrate. Meditation helps you to clear you mind and refocus. By observing the nature of all things, as they are and turning inward, we come to a place that is unwavering. It is always still, we are always at peace in our core. Just a few moments sitting and turning toward this inner space can help us clear away our negative thoughts and change our mindset.
Begin to notice your negative thoughts. We all have them, but we must build a strong awareness practice to notice when we are focusing on them so that we can shift our focus, challenge them or replace them with more constructive thoughts.
Practice Aparigraha, non greed, non- hording, simplicity. As we spoke in the yama aparigraha, always wanting more can lead to feelings of not being contented. Challenging this feeling and asking yourself, what do I really need?
How will you invite more Santosh into your life? Tell us below or in the Facebook Group.